Blunt hammer syndrome

Oct 04 2013, 18:00 IST
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SummaryUPA didnít make a nuanced case for contesting the judgment on convicted MPs.

UPA didnít make a nuanced case for contesting the judgment on convicted MPs.

The great churning in India is unleashing two tendencies. On one hand, the moral needle on corruption is, slowly but surely, moving. All kinds of institutions are being emboldened to wield a broom in their own way: Om Prakash Chautala and Lalu Prasad are in prison. Cynics might argue that this only shows that you have to be out of power to be prosecuted. The way the CBI opens and closes cases lends credence to this charge. But politicians can no longer afford to defend rules that aided and abetted corruption. The collusive ancien regime of corruption was so widespread that these may seem like small mercies. But there is no question that the political class is now feeling more vulnerable.

On the other hand, there is a kind of crudeness in the institutional response. The entire train of events leading up to the cabinet withdrawing the ordinance that sought to correct a Supreme Court judgment on the disqualification of MPs exemplified this. There were problems with the Supreme Court judgment. But the government showed disgraceful haste in rushing an ordinance through, rather than going through a proper parliamentary debate. Rahul Gandhi, who has been sleeping through the winds of change sweeping India, decided to play catch up in the crudest manner possible. He ended up showing contempt for institutions, signalling that morality is not a matter of public reason but his personal whim. His sinister opportunism clouded what might have been a policy triumph. He may claim credit for the outcome. But he has also revealed himself as less trustworthy. Would you trust someone who needlessly did what he did to Manmohan Singh? The Congress cabinet, ever ready to be the doormat, caved in to overturn a considered decision. And more importantly, the nuances of the argument were all crowded out.

The bill the government introduced to overturn the judgment on Lily Thomas vs Union of India, and the subsequent ordinance, were shoddy pieces of work. But there is an issue. It may not be the most popular thing to say but the Supreme Court judgment may create problems that need to be discussed. For a moment, just step back from the current heat and focus on the following question. What is the best case that can be made for saying that an MP must not

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